Mesut Ozil was one of the breakout stars of the 2010 World Cup. At just 22, the German attacking midfielder caught the eye with his silky smooth style of play, and it was no wonder that a lot of the big boys came calling for the then-Werder Bremen man.
It was hardly surprising that it was Real Madrid who won the race to his signature. In three years at the Santiago Bernabeu between 2010 and 2013, Ozil’s reputation only grew. His partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo was something to behold, as he finished his final season in Spain with a whopping 26 assists in La Liga.
The following summer, Arsenal shocked one and all when they splashed out £42.5 million to make Ozil the costliest German player in history. It was a huge statement of intent from Arsene Wenger, breaking the club record fee to sign one of the best players in the world at his prime. The midfielder had a great start to life at the Emirates, and his assisting prowess was on full show.
Ozil is now into his fifth season at Arsenal, and his time in England may well be coming to a close. He hasn’t signed a contract extension, and it’s pretty obvious from his body language that he isn’t very happy at the club anymore.
Over the past couple of seasons, the German has come under heavy criticism, especially in the big games. He has been accused of not trying hard enough and not putting in a defensive shift to help out the team. Despite all his skill, it hasn’t been too difficult for teams to man-mark Ozil out of games. Against the fellow big teams though, it really makes a big difference when he doesn’t go out of his way to try and make something happen.
Does the problem lie with Arsenal?
During his time at the club, Ozil hasn’t really played with a world class striker in front of him. Olivier Giroud, Arsenal’s most regular striker in the past 5 seasons, is more of a threat in the air. Alexandre Lacazette’s arrival in the summer could provide Ozil with a trusted goalscorer up front, but it remains to be seen whether their former sticks around for long.
Arsenal have been guilty time and again of losing the ball in dangerous areas, leading to the opposition getting into goalscoring opportunities. Ozil is not exactly the kind of player who will bust a gut to get back and make up the extra man in defence; that’s just not in his game. At Real Madrid, he never needed to do that and was hence able to exploit his strengths to their fullest. At the other side of the pitch, he was afforded a lot of freedom to look up and pick passes. There are few who are better in the Premier League than him at threading intricate through-balls past defences. He sees everything, but only if he’s allowed to look up.
For Ozil to thrive, Arsenal need to build the team more around him. He’s got his weaknesses and can become a liability defensively, but that can be addressed by setting up in a way where he doesn’t have any such responsibilities on his shoulder. That could mean not starting him in every game, and bringing him on as an x-factor substitute against the big boys. There is no doubt that he will either score or assist goals if given complete freedom to do as he likes.
It remains to be seen if he stays at Arsenal for long. If another Premier League club decides to buy him though, there are a lot of lessons to be learnt on how to help Ozil play to his strengths.
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